Investors: Obsolete Chemicals Law Threatens Business Recovery

FALLS CHURCH, Virginia, September 27, 2010 (ENS) – Fifty-one organizations managing more than $35 billion in assets signed a letter sent to Congress today urging the reform of federal legislation governing toxic chemicals before the 111th Congress adjourns for the November election campaign break.

The investor letter endorses S.3209, the Safe Chemicals Act of 2010 introduced by Senator Frank Lautenberg of New Jersey, and H.R. 5820, the Toxic Chemicals Safety Act of 2010 introduced by Congressmen Bobby Rush of Illinois and Henry Waxman of California.

Both proposed laws would comprehensively overhaul the Toxic Substances Control Act of 1976, and both bills are awaiting consideration by various congressional committees and subcommittees.

The letter, coordinated by the Investor Environmental Health Network and the American Sustainable Business Council, is directed to the chairs and ranking members of the House and Senate committees and subcommittees that will consider the proposed legislation.

Farmworker uncaps a pesticide container (Photo courtesy Pacific Northwest Safety and Health Center University of Washington)

Richard Liroff, executive director of the Investor Environmental Health Network, said, “Exposures to toxic chemicals produce a tremendous drag on the U.S. economy, contributing to health problems throughout supply chains.”

The letter points out that scientists have linked chemical exposures to cancers, learning and developmental disabilities, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases, reproductive health and fertility problems, and asthma.

Savings in health care costs from reducing exposures vary among studies, but routinely add up to billions of dollars annually, the investors letter says.

Exposures to toxic chemicals lower worker productivity and raise corporate health care costs, burdening corporate performance and reducing investor returns, the letter warns.

Investors observe that proposed legal changes to drive development and disclosure of information on chemical hazards can especially assist those companies eager to reduce their “toxic footprint.”

Because of the weaknesses of the Toxic Substances Control Act, the investors say in their letter, companies have encountered challenges in identifying the chemicals in their products and supply chains and gathering information about the toxic hazards of those substances.

The letter also cites the congressional testimony of building materials manufacturer Howard Williams, who said, “Cancer, Parkinson’s, leukemia, autism, Alzheimer’s and endometriosis are non-partisan.”

David Levine, executive director and co-founder of the American Sustainable Business Council, said, “Now more than ever, we need policies that support a marketplace that operates with integrity and transparency and is producing safe products. Investment dollars and the future of our economy will rest on our businesses’ ability to restore consumer confidence in the products they use every day. American business can and will meet this opportunity with the right support.”

The investor letter concludes that a core goal of chemical policy reform “should be to move American business swiftly away from 20th century chemistry, with its legacy of Superfund sites, impaired human health, and damaged ecosystems, to green 21st century chemistry that will better serve the long term well-being of business, humanity, and Planet Earth.”

The investor letter is directed to:

  • Senators Barbara Boxer and Frank Inhofe, chair and ranking member of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works
  • Senator Frank Lautenberg, Chair of the Subcommittee on Superfund, Toxics and Environmental Health, a subcommittee of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works
  • Representatives Henry Waxman and Joe Barton, chair and ranking member of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce
  • Representatives Bobby Rush and Ed Whitfield, Chair and Ranking Member of the Subcommittee on Commerce, Trade and Consumer Protection, a subcommittee of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce

“America’s system for regulating industrial chemicals is broken,” said Senator Lautenberg, introducing the Safe Chemicals Act in April. “Parents are afraid because hundreds of untested chemicals are found in their children’s bodies. EPA does not have the tools to act on dangerous chemicals and the chemical industry has asked for stronger laws so that their customers are assured their products are safe.”

“Chemical safety reform is not a Democratic or Republican issue, it is a common-sense issue and I look forward to building bipartisan support for this measure,” Lautenberg said.

The “Safe Chemicals Act of 2010” requires safety testing of all industrial chemicals, and puts the burden on industry to prove that chemicals are safe in order stay on the market.

On July 22, Congressmen Rush and Waxman introduced their the Toxics Chemicals Safety Act in the House. The legislation would amend the Toxic Substances Control Act to ensure that the public and the environment are protected from risks resulting from chemical exposure.

Both bills establish a framework to ensure that all chemical substances to which the American people are exposed will be reviewed for safety and restricted where necessary to protect public health and the environment.

The proposed legislation requires the chemical industry to develop and provide to the Environmental Protection Agency essential data, and improves EPA’s authority to compel testing where necessary. It establishes an expedited process for EPA to reduce exposure to chemical substances that are known to be persistent, bioaccumulative, and toxic.

Non-confidential information submitted to EPA would be shared with the public and critical confidential information would be shared among regulators, with states, and with workers in the chemical industry.

Under current policy, the EPA can only call for safety testing after evidence surfaces demonstrating a chemical is dangerous. As a result, EPA has been able to require testing for just 200 of the more than 80,000 chemicals currently registered in the United States and has been able to ban only five dangerous substances.

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